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Thursday, October 11, 2012
Adrien Broner, explained

By Michael Woods


Most fight fans and pundits agree that he has talent. They see the hand speed, the ability to get angles and flurry, the desire to put a fistic stamp off finality on his foe to end the night with a satisfying climax.

The majority of fans and pundits, though, do not possess the same boundless reservoir of self-confidence Adrien Broner does, are not yet willing to say that in one or two or three fights, the kid from Cincinnati can lock down the slot as the best and brightest in the sport. I think it is also fair to say that many, if perhaps not the majority, of those fans and pundits, see Broner as a tremendously polarizing figure.

He brags too much, they say, without having tested himself sternly.

They don't care for his antics, the brushing of the hair in the ring after fights, the mock proposal to the galpal after his most recent scrap.

He doesn't respect the sport as he should, showed he thought he was above it all when he didn't come close to making weight for his July bout against Vicente Escobedo.

All those thoughts have cycled through my head, I admit.

But all those thoughts had to be reassessed in my mind when I sat across from the 23-year-old kid at HBO headquarters on Wednesday afternoon and heard him speak from deep within a heart and soul that has been tested more stiffly than the 24-0 lightweight has been as a professional in the ring.

I don't know if I sat across from the future of boxing, but I know I sat across from a kid -- and yes, I do consider a 23-year-old within the realm of being a "kid," seeing as how I know the stupid things I was doing at that age -- who comes from a place I could never hope to fathom, even if I ask a thousand questions.

Broner offered up plenty of red meat for the Twitter-sphere lions who dismiss him as Mayweather Lite, who can't wrap their brains around the new crew who understand that brash pronouncements, provocative sound bites, using the media to their optimal advantage by sharing not the boilerplate "I'm going to give 110 percent" blurbs, but rather "I want to be the first boxer to generate a billion dollars" -- which is what Broner said Wednesday.

But he also -- after hesitating, after considering whether he should go there -- admitted that a year-plus stint in lockup, for a transgression he chose not to reveal, helped form his character. He was heading to the 2008 Olympics, he said, but got off track. "I got into trouble," Broner said, "and I told myself that if God lets me out of this hole I'm in, I'm really gonna do this boxing thing."

"I come from Cincinnati," he said -- in a way that indicated to me that I really don't know what his conception of Cincinnati really means, and that it can be a scary place -- and "I got into some trouble. Some big trouble, they tried to give me football numbers [a jail sentence for many, many years], receiver, like 85-years stuff."

Broner was asked how long he was locked up for. "A year and some months," he said.

And for what, exactly? "I don't want to get into that," he said, "but I've been through a lot. But I'm back on track. Every day I go in and train like I have nothing, 'cause I ain't never had nothing."

And here is where Broner switched my thinking, helped move me from a place of judgment, you could say, to closer to a place of empathy. "I know what it's like," said the 5-foot-7 hitter with 20 KOs who will meet Antonio DeMarco on Nov. 17 in Atlantic City, N.J., and on HBO, "to wake up in the middle of the night and say, 'I'm hungry,' and see what's to eat and say, 'F---, I got to eat syrup and bread again ... and water. I know what that feels like."

Yeah, trying to fill an empty belly with water to shut down the growling -- that isn't a feeling I've ever had to wrestle with. I don't know what it feels like, and it made me understand a bit better why Adrien Broner acts like he does and says some of the things that he does, or at least made me fully accept his right to say them. And it made me realize, once again, that it looks like this is another situation where boxing -- permanent target of scorn and derision -- saved another soul. It gave a boy in his late teens, who was headed for a path of self-destruction, a reason to exist, a focus, a goal.

"School really didn't work for me," Broner said. "What am I gonna do to be successful and provide for my family? I was like, I want to play basketball, I love basketball, but I'm too short. I'm not gonna cooperate in school. ... Boxing. I always found boxing, it always came back to boxing, boxing, boxing. Boxing, this is it, this is gonna be the thing gonna take me over the the top."

Maybe you had to be there. Maybe the next time Broner tells you how superb he is and how much dough he wants to make, you will react with disgust or bewilderment. But I know that Wednesday in New York City, Broner turned at least one guy from critic to rooter.